Archive for the ‘ethics’ Category

coca_2824997Over the years I have had the opportunity to work with several professors who teach business ethics.   I have taught at a university where a program was developed to teach ethical reasoning to all university students.   I have co-written a peer reviewed journal article on ethical issues associated with online marketing.    Today, at my university have a veteran faculty member who does an outstanding job of engaging business students in the ethical issues of our day.   Yet, I continue to be plagued by the inherent inconsistencies between pedagogical intent and actual student learning outcomes in the teaching of ethics.    I would like to share two specific stories which highlight my point.

Story One:   “Stealing from the Soda Vending Machine”

Several years ago I was co-teaching a leadership class with a fellow faculty member.   In the class, he motivated the importance of teaching ethics by sharing a story about students stealing soda cans from a university vending machine.    Specifically,  he severely criticized the ethical behavior of students for taking soda cans from a soda machine after the machine dispensed several cans after a student only paid for one can.    After class, I questioned the professor by saying the ethics of the situation could depend on the situation that led to the vending machine dispensing the cans (i.e.  Did the machine sometimes take money and not return any cans? or Had students contacted the owner of the machine and received an unsatisfactory reply?).    From the point of the view of the professor, it was simply wrong to ‘steal’ a can of soda and the students were in the wrong.

I was not satisfied with the professor’s reply.    What did I do?   I googled “vending machine ethics” and found a wonderful lesson in ethics from  Rabbi Tzvi Shpitz.    He tells a wonderful tale of ethics, based on Jewish law, that describes the process by which the vending machine customer should evaluate the situation and respond.      As you read the Rabbi’s response, you will see that the response is not as easy as “right” and “wrong”.   See: Hilchos Choshen Mishpat, Volume II, Number 4: Money Extracted From A Vending Machine.

This episode left me puzzled by the business professor’s approach to ethics and his apparent unwillingness to examine the complexity of an interesting ethical dilemma.

 Story Two:   “The Ethics of Uber”

At a recent conference for academic deans, a distinguished professor of business ethics from a major university made a presentation on the importance of teaching ethics in the business curriculum.   She immediately motivated her discussion by launching into a diatribe on the unethical behavior of Uber.      More specifically, she unequivocally stated that Uber was unethical for circumventing taxi cab laws and for treating their employees as contract employees.    After her presentation was over, I gently discussed the notion that nearly all of the tech giants (Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, etc.) pushed ethical boundaries and that ultimately there are ethical arguments that can be made pro and con for different business practices and that ultimately these boundaries will be settled in a court of law.    The ethics professor would have none of this – Uber was clearly a business engaged in unethical business practices.    There was no gray in her position.

I later learned that the business ethics professor specialized in labor law.      This troubled me.     From my perspective she was viewing an ethical issue solely from a legal perspective and did not consider the issue from different perspectives.      See: “Ethically, is Uber a better choice than a taxi?”.  Most troubling was that she did this in front of a group of deans – none of whom seemed to be particularly bothered by her analysis.


Why do business ethics professors seem to view complex ethical situations through a black and white lense?    This is troubling.   Few ethical dilemmas have simple solutions.      By presenting these cases as examples of bad behavior as opposed to examples of ethical decision making, they do their students a great disservice.    From my perspective, both of these professors ultimately force our students to rely exclusively on the law and they do little to advance the importance of ethical decision making.    What are your thoughts?

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe


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TeachersPhilosophyWilliam DeWitt Hyde (1858 – 1917), the 7th president of Bowdoin College, was a prolific author and a remarkable university leader.    His writing and public speaking were “distinguished by fluency, ease, and roundness of statement”.   Hyde wrote at least fifteen different books that built on his knowledge in ethics, morality and the education of young people.    I particularly enjoy two of Hyde’s books that relate to higher education:   The College Man and the College Woman (1906) and The Teacher’s Philosophy in and out of School (1910).

In The Teacher’s Philosophy in and out of SchoolHyde builds the case for the teacher’s ‘in school’ philosophy by first illustrating the development of the young man from primary school to the university.   He concludes with the Five Tests of the Teacher.   They are reproduced below:

First : Is my interest in my work so contagious that my pupils catch from me an eager interest in what we are doing together?   Then I have the primary teacher’s quality, essential to success there and everywhere.

Second : Is my work thorough and resourceful, rather than superficial and conventional, so that the brightness of my industry and the warmth of my encouragement kindles in my pupils a responsive zeal to do their best, cost what it may?   Then I have the grammar school teacher’s essential quality, without which no one can teach anywhere aright.

Third : Do I get at the individuality of my students, so that each one is different to me from every other, and I am something no other person is to each of them? Then I have the high school teacher’s special gift ; and shall be a power for good all through my students’ lives.

Fourth : Do I treat them, and train them to treat each other, never as mere things, or means to ends ; but always as persons, with rights, aims, interests, aspirations, which I heartily respect and sympathetically share ? Then I have the college quality ; and am sure to be popular and successful everywhere.

Fifth : Am I so reverent toward fact, so obedient to law, that through me fact and law speak and act with an authority which my students instinctively recognize and implicitly obey? Then the mantle of the university, and a double portion of the professional spirit has fallen upon me and wherever I teach, the problem of discipline for the most part will solve itself through the mutual recognition by both students and teacher of a Power greater than either and higher than all.

As I make my teaching preparations for the upcoming academic year, I will reflect on William DeWitt Hyde’s five tests and will be a better teacher for it.

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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ChamberlainThe summer gives me time to reflect on purpose, leadership and legacy.    Today I ran across a quote from Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Union Civil War general, Medal of Honor winner, and later President of Bowdoin College.  The quote comes from an  address to the 16th Maine Volunteers in Gardiner, Maine 1898.  

There is a way of losing that is finding. When soul overmasters sense; when the noble and divine self overcomes the lower self; when duty and honor and love,—immortal things,—bid the mortal perish! It is only when a man supremely gives that he supremely finds.

Joshua Chamberlain’s life should be an inspiration to university professors everywhere.   A man of humble origins,  Chamberlain returned to his alma mater, Bowdoin College, and began a career in education as a professor of rhetoric.  He eventually went on to teach every subject in the curriculum with the exception of science and mathematics. In 1861 he was appointed Professor of Modern Languages.  In the Civil War, Chamberlain achieved fame at the Battle of Gettysburg, where his valiant defense of a hill named Little Round Top became legendary and resulted in him being awarded the U.S. Medal of Honor.  After serving as Governor of Maine, he returned to Bowdoin College.  In 1871, he was appointed president of Bowdoin and remained in that position until 1883.

Chamberlain’s quote is one for the ages.   I reflect on my life’s mission – the development of the human potential in others and inspiring others to do the same.  It seems so obvious  – we find our destiny through the immortal.

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

[note: for a list of famous university presidents, including Joshua Chamberlain, see the blog post “List of Famous University Presidents (United States)“.]

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simple giftsSimple Gifts, a Shaker tune from the 19th century, is a reminder to me about several things.   First, amazing things can happen when we keep things simple.  At the university there is a tendency to create complexity when simplicity is the order of the day.  Second, in academia there is freedom to explore – to explore new teaching methods, new scholarly pursuits, and new ways to engage students and our communities.  Be sure to take advantage of these freedoms.   Finally, it is a wonderful feeling to know “when we find ourselves in the place just right”.  As I’ve said before, academia is my anchor.   Enjoy!

Simple Gifts

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gain’d,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.

Please take the time to enjoy the simple things in life.  

A special ‘thank you’ goes to my daughter for sharing this tune and for sharing her love of music.

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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Takin it to the StreetsAccenture, the multinational management consulting and technology services company, is one of the world’s largest consulting firms.  It’s executive leadership team has pledged to build the company on a solid ethical foundation. In 2010, Accenture was named one of the “World’s Most Ethical Companies” for third consecutive year.   Accenture’s Code of Business Ethics is, in my opinion, one of the most carefully crafted and action-oriented ethical codes that I have seen.  Let’s take a look at its six pillars:

  1. Client Value Creation in Action – enabling clients to become high-performance businesses and creating long-term relationships by being responsible and relevant and by consistently delivering value.  
  2. One Global Network in Action – leveraging the power of global insight, relationships, collaboration and learning to deliver exceptional service to clients wherever they do business.
  3. Respect for the Individual in Action – valuing diversity and unique contributions, fostering a trusting, open and inclusive environment and treating each person in a manner that reflect’s Accenture’s values.
  4. Best People in Action – attracting, developing and retaining the best talent for our business, challenging our people, demonstrating a “can-do” attitude, and fostering a collaborative and mutually supportive environment.
  5. Integrity in Action – being ethically unyielding and honest and inspiring trust by saying what we mean, matching our behaviors to our words and taking responsibility for our actions.
  6. Stewardship in Action – fulfilling our obligation of building a better, stronger, more durable company for future generations, protecting the Accenture brand, meeting our commitment to stakeholders, acting with an owner mentality, developing our people, and helping improve communities and the global environment.

I like how each “virtue” is linked to action – enabling employees to “Take It To The Streets”.   I have seen many value statements in the university community.   Are our academic value statements linked to action?    What would Accenture’s six pillars look like if applied to a university?  Maybe next time.

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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Help me.

Help me spread Your fragrance wherever I go.

Flood my soul with Your spirit and life.

Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly that my life may be only a radiance of Yours.

Shine through me and be so in me that every soul will feel Your presence in my soul.

Let them look up and see, see no longer me, but only You.


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1901-600x324Dean Harlow Person served in the deanship of Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Administration and Finance from 1906 to 1919 (Khurana, R., From Higher Aims to Hired Hands, Princeton University Press, 2007, p. 152).    Person was also influential in the establishment of the AACSB.

Person was clear in articulating a mission for his school.   Following are several quotes from Person about the Tuck School’s mission and vision.

Our judgment is that our primary obligation is to the student, and the first and largest draft which the instructor should make on his store of time and energy should be on behalf of the individual student.  We attempt to develop in our instructing staff the feeling that instruction is not something formal but is a personal responsibility for the personal success of every individual student.  That, we conceive, as also our largest public service.

Person argued:

The essential public service that the school could provide was to teach students to ‘develop the power to apply principles to the solutions of business problems …. which will some day be of service to us all.’

In regard to the teaching of ethics, Person stated

We do not attempt any formal instruction in business ethics.  We believe that formality and artificiality of a formal course in business ethics would defeat its very purpose.  But in every course it is the aim of every instructor, I know, to inspire in his students a conception of the nobility of the profession of the business man and of his responsibility to his fellow-man and to society.

Finally, in order to assist young men in the pursuit of a career

Every possible method is employed to enable students to meet business men -(guest) lecturers – personally, and the lectures of such men are followed by a simple luncheon intended to enable second-year men to meet lecturers informally.

The ideals espoused by Person are as relevant today as ever.   Have many of the “top” business faculty strayed from this ideal?

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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